On May 6, 1889 the Eiffel Tower welcomed the public for the first time. It was built as the entrance to the Exposition Universelle. Gustave Eiffel won the design competition for a 300 meter structure that reigned as the world’s tallest until eventually dethroned by the Chrysler Building in New York. Before it was built, Eiffel’s tower was reviled as an eyesore on the Paris skyline. In a famous letter of objection, the luminaries of the day howled, “we shall see stretching out like a black blot the odious shadow of the odious column built up of riveted iron plates.” How wrong they were. While their names have largely passed into obscurity, Eiffel and his tower are the international symbol of Paris. In fact, although the original plan had been to destroy the tower after twenty years, the new age of radio communication showed new uses for the graceful structure and it was allowed to stay, to the great joy of the over 200,000,000 people who have visited it.
During the occupation of Paris, the lift cables were cut to prevent the Germans from being able to easily ascend the tower. Due to war-time shortages, the cables could not be replaced. It passed into Paris legend that Hitler conquered France but not the Eiffel tower. Mysteriously, the lift was running normally within hours of the liberation of Paris.
Starting with the millennium celebration, the tower has been lit up by 20,000 sparkling bulbs for the first few minutes of each hour at night. It’s a beautiful sight. I have a front row seat from my room in Paris during my summer job and it never fails to thrill. If you need an Eiffel tower fix, it’s always available by webcam.
Today’s expression, un tour de force (uh tour duh force) means “quite a feat.” It’s one of the singularities of French that the same word can have a completely different meaning if it’s masculine or feminine. Un tour has ten different meanings, including a trick or feat, as in this expression. In the feminine form, une tour, there are another three meanings, including a tower. Any way you look at it, la tour Eiffel est un tour de force.